How Communications Shaped the Pandemic
From how we work and collaborate to how we socialize with friends and family, there’s no question the COVID-19 pandemic upended our everyday routines and changed our ability to connect with people. While this new environment presented many challenges, it also opened new doors, as colleagues found more efficient ways to work together and friends from across the country, or even around the world, were able to virtually connect without the distractions and obligations of every day.
Through it all, the pandemic placed an emphasis on communication, and its importance in our workplaces and in our homes, often offering a beacon of light in the darkest times of this year. Anna Umphress, senior director of communications and public affairs at Georgia-Pacific, and Sarah Kittel, vice president of corporate affairs with Ferrara joined CPG Speaks to discuss how COVID-19 changed corporate communication, sometimes even for the better.
Getting Back to the Basics
In many ways, the coronavirus crisis made us refocus on what’s important, and for corporate communicators, that lesson meant taking a step back and getting back to the basics — breaking down silos, embracing flexibility and being nimble as things evolved every day.
“When we were in crisis mode, we didn’t have time for seventeen meetings to make a decision,” said Umphress. “We focused on working on the right things and making sure we were meeting the needs of our customers as positively and proactively as we could.”
“We focused on working on the right things and making sure we were meeting the needs of our customers as positively and proactively as we could.”
This ability to think on their feet and implement ideas quickly gave communications professionals the tools necessary to form successful COVID responses, especially in the early days, when new information was being released seemingly by the minute.
“For us, it’s making sure we’re working together and seeing one another, not just as colleagues, but as partners,” Kittel added. “The only way that we managed through as successfully as we did at the start of the pandemic was through a recognition of each individual’s expertise and empowering that decision making.”
There’s No Such Thing as Overcommunication
Whether with consumers or your own employees, even the best content won’t make an impact on its intended audience if it doesn’t find people where they are. As the world moves increasingly online, and with attention split between emails, Slack messages, Twitter feeds and more, communicators have to adapt for these messages to truly have an impact.
“Clearly, the days of writing a newsletter or just sending out an email are over,” Umphress said. “In our manufacturing operations, we’ve tried to utilize those digital tools. We have digital signs, gifs, infographics and other snackable pieces of content that people can take away really easily.”
What may feel like overcommunication for the people writing or publishing it, gives the intended audience a chance to remember the information, in an environment where they’re bombarded with new messages on the daily, and can contribute to a heightened feeling of trust from important stakeholders.
“For us, it’s been that transparency that has kept the line of communication open with our primary audiences.”
“As communicators, we always lean into transparency and authenticity to establish credibility,” said Kittel. “For us, it’s been that transparency that has kept the line of communication open with our primary audiences.”
This year has been anything but perfect, and as communicators look toward the future, getting comfortable with imperfection — both in messaging and when working with others — has been an important takeaway from 2020.
“When the pandemic hit, everyone had to go home and learn how to use Teams to communicate and hold meetings with 300 to 400 employees engaging,” said Umphress. “These tools aren’t perfect. We learned how to video record on a Teams call so we could send out messages to employees across the company, and sometimes the bandwidth would glitch or the picture wasn’t crystal clear. This situation has taught us that the message and timing is really important and if it isn’t perfect all the time, that’s okay too.”
As employees cope with the pandemic and its effects on their lives and families, Kittel also emphasized the need for a new level of understanding in the workplace, and the importance of being mindful of others’ experiences.
“Don’t lose sight of why you do what you do — why you show up every day. Particularly as communicators, continue to stay grounded in the human side of this pandemic.”
“The one thing I appreciate and take away from this is the idea that you do spend just a little bit more time understanding where people are and how this has impacted each of them differently,” she said. “Don’t lose sight of why you do what you do — why you show up every day. Particularly as communicators, continue to stay grounded in the human side of this pandemic.”
Visit our website to learn more about CPG Speaks and to register for an upcoming session. CPG Speaks is complimentary for attendees, thanks to PwC and individual session sponsors. View the session in full here.
Published on November 3, 2020
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